Martin Farrell: Consider where you stand on your charity board's ego spectrum

Martin Farrell
Martin Farrell

Try this: at the beginning of your next board meeting, instruct everyone to place themselves in a line-up according to the size of their egos. Then tell everyone to look at the line and move around until you are all sure it accurately reflects your board's egos: biggest at one end, smallest at the other.

Or better still, try this: don't wait until your next board meeting. Do it now, in your imagination. This is more fun and is also much safer.

(Did you place yourself in the line? If not, pause a moment and do it now. Are you towards the bigger or smaller ego end, or in the middle?)

Having seen the egos lined up against the wall in your imagination, take a pen and paper and draw what you've seen – bigger to smaller, all in a line, so you can see your board's ego spectrum.

The bigger egos say "I'm right, of course", or "there's only one way and that's my way". The big ego shouts "me, me, me". You can hear the big egos a mile off. That's their habit.

See the smaller egos whisper "leave it to the bigger egos, they understand more than I do", or "if I say anything, maybe one of those big egos will shout at me", or even "I don't want to rock the boat". You can barely hear them at all. That's their habit.

The bigger egos get a bad press and are easy to blame. Being self-serving on a charity board is generally taken to be a bad thing. It also seems to me that, by their silence, the smaller egos play their part in keeping the ego spectrum in place.

Whether you are a shouter or a whisperer, look at the ego spectrum in front of you and bring to mind your charity's mission. Who is shouting, who is whispering and how does this serve your collective endeavour - or not?

What habits do you see? Who on your board could practise shutting up and who could practise speaking up?

Now be brave and think about where you stand on the spectrum: will you shut up a bit more or speak up a bit more? Try it.

Martin Farrell, an international facilitator and crisis coach at

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